Our Interns Dive Into Week 3: On Simplicity!

Posted by Pranidhi Varshney on Jun 24, 2016
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Already into the third week of our summer internship, we've dived into topics from Generosity to last week's Moral Action to this week's theme of "Simplicity"!

Amit started us off with a touching story about meeting a couple this weekend who had just been at a funeral for one of the victims of the mass shooting in Orlando. What’s more, Amit met the couple at a wedding. As they talked openly about how to keep love alive amidst such tragedy, Amit rushed off to get two heart pins made by the children at Manav Sadhna. As he gifted them to the couple, they were filled with tears and everyone involved shared a beautiful connection.

Jacob embarked on a social media cleanse this week, and though it wasn’t enjoyable, he did find it interesting. He found that habitual behavior patterns (like checking Instagram) were difficult to break because they’ve become so wired into our brains. Pranidhi shared a similar experience with Facebook. After moving the FB app to the second screen on her phone so that she wasn’t tempted to check it every time she looked at her phone, she realized that her new behavior pattern became to simply swipe to the next screen and check it! It wasn’t until she deleted the app from her phone that she finally found some freedom. She still uses FB but is less beholden to it.

Saheli spent the week in Yosemite (with the First Family!), away from most technology, and found it quite calming to be in nature. She also gave up Netflix, which allowed her to complete her summer homework- something that she normally would have put off till the week before school started! She shared with us the act of giving up her seat on the shuttle for a woman with a baby, and the incredible feeling of contentment when she saw that the baby had fallen asleep :)

During her volunteer work with KindSpring, Saheli came across the story of Flowering Kindness in Fourth Grade and was inspired by the kids’ realization that making other people happy made them happy. She also brought up some questions around resistance- Why do we tend to be suspicious when someone acts kindly toward us? Why do others have difficulty trusting our motivations when we perform an act of kindness?

Amit seeded the question- Is there something fundamental that’s changed in the past 10-15 years? While there was no one right answer, we talked about the role that media plays in perpetrating fear and negativity, the fact that we used to be more interdependent as a society so that helping each other was necessary and inevitable, and that technology nowadays can make us feel more isolated.

Audrey and Jacob both shared stories of people trying to give something from a place of love (flowers and cookies, respectively) that were met with strong resistance. In our transactional, commerce-driven world, Audrey shared that the norm seems to be having an agenda. She also reiterated that context is important. If people have a context for our giving, they’re more likely to receive openly and pay it forward.

As we shifted toward the theme of the week, Saheli had the surprising realization that Google does not have all the answers! She wasn’t quite sure about the meaning of renunciation and searching online didn’t help much. For Jacob, renunciation meant voluntarily giving up something, and that act of giving something up automatically led to simplicity. We asked Audrey to elaborate on the concept, as well as the relationship renunciation and simplicity, and she offered the image of monks with begging bowls. Dedicated to their inner practice, monks are completely dependent on others in order to eat and sustain their lives. This surrender cultivates a quality of not having preference- otherwise knows as ‘beggars can’t be choosers.’ Audrey had a tangible experience of this when she spent a summer experiencing the hospitality of strangers. Because she was a guest and wanted to make it as easy as possible for her hosts, she gave up preference and surrendered to what was offered- sometimes sleeping in a bed, on the couch, on the floor, on whatever color mattress ;)

Amit’s previous association with monks, yogis, and other ascetics, was that giving up all worldly pursuits and possessions was like putting on handcuffs. Over time, his views have evolved so that now he sees this as a deliberate choice that leads toward greater freedom when practiced unforced and with clear intent. He suggested we try an exercise on categorizing into two buckets our wants and our needs. We all have a tendency to get confused about these two buckets and this exercise may help us gain some clarity.

Jacob reflected on how our wants and needs can get blurred by sharing a predicament about buying a new pair of shoes. Though he only owns two pairs and could very much use a replacement, does he really need it? Could delaying that purchase free up space for other things or acts?

This naturally led us to a discussion about this week’s reading and video materials, The Power of Half. Saheli noted that while the $800k contribution to Ghana was significant, the increased connection that came about as a result of moving into a smaller house was as significant. She also voiced the concern that making such a public display of this act could lead to resistance because of jealousy, guilt, and defensiveness. Pranidhi appreciated the ‘half’ part of this act- the acknowledgment that we don’t have to give up everything to be of service. For some, it could be half. For other, a quarter, an eighth, and so on.

From material simplicity, we turned to mental simplicity as Audrey encouraged us to ponder simplicity of intent. This reminded Pranidhi of a situation she faced this week, in which one of her students asked her for private sessions. As she weighs her response, clarity in her intent of being of service (to her student and to herself), helps her wade through conflicting motivations.

Amit spoke about holding onto anger, and how releasing it helps the mind simplify. Saheli echoed this sentiment with the observation that being mad is a cycle that feeds on itself. Often, we forget what the original issue even was! Letting go takes less energy than feeding the cycle. Pranidhi noted that in many of our written reflections, we commented on how simplifying our material possessions and our mental space allows us to place our focus on relationships.

Audrey shared the following quote by Jon Kabat-Zinn:
“Voluntary simplicity means going fewer places in one day rather than more, seeing less so I can see more, doing less so I can do more, acquiring less so I can have more.”

And Jacob shared the following quote by Duane Elgin:
“To me, voluntary simplicity means integration and awareness in my life.”

As we reflected on areas in which we practice voluntary simplicity, Pranidhi shared that by choosing not to wear make-up or fancy yoga clothes, her mind has space for other, more meaningful things. Amit shared a story about a previous intern cleaning his room with the lens of simplicity and how that freed up so much mental space. Another previous intern shared about her grandmother who lived a simple life with very few possessions and that radiated an inner joy that impacted everyone around her. He also shared his own experience of giving up FB about a year and a half ago, and realizing that though he missed keeping up to date with people’s love, he didn’t expend much energy to keep in touch with many of the ‘friends’ he had on the site.

Amit then posed a question about identity, and how our ability to release certain things may be tied to our identification with them. He told us a story about attending a fancy fundraiser and noticing that the first question people asked was always, ‘What do you do?’ Amit subverted this question with answers like ‘professional bum’ and ‘whirling dervish,’ which people found quite difficult to accept!

Audrey shared a story about Gandhi being in an important meeting with leaders of the independence movement and leaving that meeting to go tend to a little girl’s goat because she needed help. This story prompted her to ask- how do we stay simple amidst life’s pressures?

Saheli commented that each person’s idea of simplicity can vary; that is is context-dependent. Pranidhi shared Omid Safi’s The Disease of Being Busy and we talked about authenticity when asking and answering the question, How are you? Do we actually want to know the answer? Can we listen and respond with an open heart, and allow that to be an act of service in and of itself? Though we didn’t have time to mention this in the call, this inquiry reminded Pranidhi of a radical act of listening by our brother-in-service, Birju. By listening without agenda for hours to someone he didn’t know very well, that someone was inspired to start the organization Tea With Strangers! We never how far our ripples reach :)

We ended the call with Amit’s observation that within three weeks, Jacob and Saheli have already formed a strong, supportive bond and always have each other’s backs. This simple bond inspires us all as we move into Week 4!     

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  • Birju Pandya wrote ...

    what?!?! wonderful post, thank you!!